LID is dedicated to ensuring that New York City's next Public Advocate understands the concerns of the LGBTQ Community and is responsive to its needs. As a service to our members, please review these responses from our candidates. note: responses are published in the order they were submitted to us.
Q: How will your platform and agenda for the Public Advocate's office encourage investment, support and protections for disadvantaged and marginalized LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, including but not limited to people of color, persons with HIV/AIDS, transgender/gender non-conforming persons, LGBTQ+ seniors (and youth), and victims of bullying and violence motivated by homo- and trans-phobia? Please cite specific actions you'd take as PA, such as specific legislation you'd propose and investigative efforts you'd initiate. Please feel free to cite relevant accomplishments that might best demonstrate your ability to lead and drive your proposed agenda.
|I have always used my voice to speak up and advocate for our LGBTQ+ communities—which includes people of color, trans and gender non-conforming persons, individuals living with HIV/AIDS, immigrants, women, and LGBTQ+ seniors and youth.
New Yorkers of every gender identity and sexual orientation deserve respect and the opportunity to thrive. This is why, in December, my campaign unveiled a comprehensive platform specifying ways that, if elected public advocate, I will work with the City Council and city agencies to support LGBTQ+ people from all walks of life. This platform, which I outline below, builds upon accomplishments from my 12 years on the City Council, including four as Speaker. By advocating for a new LGBT business initiative, for trans rights, and for LGBT liaisons in every agency, I hope to make this city more welcoming and safe and for all New Yorkers.
As Public Advocate, I am committed to continuing my strong support for the LGBTQ+ community through attention to, advocacy for, and implementation of specific projects, proposals, and legislation identified as priorities by the LGBTQ+ community, including:
Conversion Therapy: While as Speaker, the Council overwhelmingly passed legislation that banned people from charging individuals for conversion therapy in New York City.
HIV and AIDS: While as Speaker, the budget allocated $23 million a year on a new plan to end the AIDS epidemic. The plan included:
Bullying: In 2017, under my leadership as Speaker, the Department of Education (DOE) committed $8 million system-wide to expand anti-bullying measures, including an online complaint portal for families and targeted support for 300 schools with high rates of bullying. In addition, while as Speaker, the Council advanced legislation that requires DOE to provide additional support for LGBTQ students, release data about bullying and identify which schools maintain Gender and Sexuality Alliances.
Data Collection: While as Speaker, the Council passed bills requiring that city agencies use a new form to collect information on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Gender Neutral Bathrooms: While as Speaker, the Council passed legislation to make single-stall bathrooms in the city go gender neutral.
LGBTQ Civil Rights Cirriculum: Successfully partnered with Councilmember Dromm and students from the Earth School in the East Village to get BrainPOP, an interactive digital educational company used by students in public schools across the city, to create a new LGBT Civil Rights-specific curriculum.
Pride Prom: While as Speaker, my office co-sponsored an annual Pride Prom, which offered a do-over for New Yorkers of all ages who felt excluded from their own high school celebration.
LGBTQ Education Liaison: Partnered with Councilmember Dromm to secure $200,000 in funding for an LGBTQ liaison with the Department of Education. In addition, we secured $50,000 for Teachers College to do a full-day workshop for 150 instructors on how to integrate LGBTQ+ issues into curricula with a special emphasis on the intersection of race and sexual orientation.
Municipal ID Cards: While as Speaker, the Council approved the creation of a municipal identification card that allows members of the LGBTQ+ community to self-designate the gender by which they wish to be identified
Sexual Education: As Speaker, I pushed the city to investigate how prevalent the teaching of sex education is in public schools. A poll of 314 public and charter school students in grades 6-12 in NYC in 2016 found only 64.5% of those kids had received sex ed lessons at school
Older Adults: Expanded housing opportunities for LGBTQ+ older adults.
Marriage Equality: Organized local activists and my colleagues in the City Council to fight right-wing, conservative, anti-gay forces within the Puerto Rican community during the movement for Marriage Equality.
Transgender people come from all walks of life. They are dads and moms, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. They are our coworkers, and our neighbors. They are a diverse community, representing all racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as faith backgrounds.
Some of the specific issues facing the transgender community are:
Lack of legal protection. I can work with stakeholders to seek funding for designated legal counseling and representation for this specific community.
Poverty. In too many cases, the lack of legal protection translates into unemployment for transgender people. As anyone who has experienced poverty or unemployment understands, being unable to afford basic living necessities can result in homelessness or lead people to engage in underground economies like drug sales or survival sex work. I will work with local groups to provide education, job training and even special housing for participants with these programs. Funding for this can come through my plan to eliminate the rebate on the Stack Transfer Tax.
Barriers to healthcare. Data collection on health disparities among transgender people is very limited, but the data available reveals a healthcare system that is not meeting the needs of the transgender community. Better education and training in transgender heath care competency is a must. I will work with my colleagues on legislating guidelines and seeking expanded funding.
Documents – With the recent change in how our birth certificate identification system is set up now, I propose legislation to do the same with identity documentation for the LGBTQ community. To be clear, with this identification, one would be able travel, register for school or access many services that are essential to function in society. The ID would give one of three options male, female and X, and the fee for processing this ID would be free.
That is why as Public Advocate I am committed to continuing to support and advocate for the transgender community, so that the transgender residents who are and will become your friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members have an equal chance to succeed and thrive.
I’ve spent my career as an advocate, carrying out the belief that no problem is too big to solve, and no amount of bureaucracy or infighting will stop me from getting a job done. I have a track record of breaking through the bureaucracy, bringing to this race over two decades of experience across politics, government, philanthropy and law. I’ve served in two Democratic White House Administrations and under President Obama I was part of the team at the Department of Health and Human Services that provided healthcare to millions of Americans. As an attorney, I’ve represented immigrant workers seeking fair pay, won clemency from President Obama for a man that had served over a decade for a non-violent drug crime, and successfully got an injunction to prevent voter suppression by candidate Donald Trump and his associates prior to the 2016 election. I was also instrumental in passing the Mental Health Parity Act, which requires that all health insurers provide mental health benefits (including addiction) at the same level that they provide medical surgical benefits.
I built my platform around issues that affect all New Yorkers: the subway that is crumbling beneath our feet, housing that working families can no longer afford - causing hazardous living conditions and alarming rates of homelessness among women and children - and voting reforms to bring New York City up to modern day standards and ensure every vote counts.
Two areas that I find particularly alarming for the LGBTQ community are the rates of homelessness and suicide among LGBTQ youth, rates that grow higher for LGBTQ people of color. Homelessness is one of the key areas on which I intend to focus the office of Public Advocate. I would seek out solutions that provide stability for the community. Additionally, I would advocate for protections against discrimination for the LGBTQ community in the workplace and public areas to make sure everyone is living under the same protections under the law.
My career has been defined by the fight for equality for all New Yorkers and it’s why I am running for Public Advocate on the “Equality for All” ballot line. As an openly gay man, fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community is deeply personal. I was the prime sponsor for marriage equality for 5 years before it passed into law and I was also the prime sponsor of the Dignity for All Students Act, which established anti-bullying protections and secured protections for trans and gender non-conforming individuals for the first time in New York. We have made significant progress in New York in the last few days alone, and I am incredibly proud to have passed GENDA and the ban on conversion therapy. I am currently the prime sponsor on bills to ban the “gay/trans panic” defense and make all single stall restrooms gender neutral statewide.
But with Trump in Washington, our Public Advocate must be a vigilant and aggressive voice for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers. I will use my position to push for additional funding for HIV/AIDS prevention so that the city stays on track to eradicate AIDS by 2020 and we can better address the stigma of HIV/AIDS, especially in communities of color. Additionally, I am calling on the mayor to devote 15% of new development to provide housing to homeless New Yorkers, which will help address homelessness in the LGBTQ+ community. Discrimination, especially when it comes to housing, is a chief concern for LGBTQ+ seniors and youth and I will demand accountability from our government agencies, including the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
|First, I would investigate and call for the City to divest from any companies who have had any prejudice on LGBTQ+ issues. As Public Advocate, I would make it a practice to make use of my megaphone to publicly call out companies who do business in NYC that have anti-LGBTQ+ stakeholders or leadership.
Another top priority of mine will be to address the homeless problem in the trans community and work hard to push policies that would rehabilitate and help house trans New Yorkers who have been ignored by our government. I believe in a “housing first” approach that stabilizes the long-term homeless by moving them directly into subsidized housing, from which they can then benefit from support and assistance programs. There is overwhelming evidence that this approach leads to more homeless individuals becoming permanently housed. But because the root cause of homelessness is the city’s affordable housing crisis, that issue must be addressed head on through rent control, tenant protections, and public housing in order to end homelessness in the City.
Furthermore, I would call for an expanded training for all NYPD officers and an overhault of the CCRB’s procedures for disciplining misconduct. I would push for expanded public education and awareness in communities where we have seen anti-LGBTQ+ acts of bigotry and violence. We need to be using the power of the city media to confront bigotry in every way.
I would also push for gender-neutral single occupancy bathrooms in all city owned and operated buildings and pressure the state to offer three options for sex designation on IDs. I would introduce a bill to ban conversion therapies in NYC and pressure our state lawmakers to do the same.
But the only way to achieve true justice for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers is through an intersectional agenda that focuses on issues that disproportionately impact the LGBTQ+ community — economic inequality, systemic racism, homelessness, police misconduct, health care. These are the issues my campaign is focusing on, and I have a history as an activist, reformer, and investigative reporter of centering these issues. As an appointed member to the 2016 DNC Platform Committee, I advocated for and achieved the most progressive Democratic Party platform in history. And as an appointed member of the DNC Unity Reform Commission, I pushed for major reforms in accountability and transparency in a national party structure that all too often has allowed lobbyists, corporations, and consultants to dictate its priorities and agenda.
Achieving justice on these issues is going to take a politically independent, adversarial, investigative watchdog who will explicitly take on corruption and negligence in city government. LGBTQ+ New Yorkers are being marginalized because money from corporate interests are rendering them invisible in the political process. Real estate developers are choking off any effort to achieve housing justice and depriving our city of the revenue it needs to fund public services. City government has enough career politicians. We need a Public Advocate who will not simply use the office as a political stepping stone. We need one who will be willing to take risks, offend powerful interests, and truly advocate for the public on the issues that are impacting LGBTQ+ lives.
||My first big legislative achievement as a Council Member led to a dramatic increase in protections for LGBT New Yorkers, related interactions with law enforcement. The Community Safety Act (2013) banned bias-based policing against LGBT New Yorkers, and made it significantly easier for victims to file discrimination suits in state court. This was a time when 700,000 innocent New Yorkers were stopped, questioned and frisked, with no reasonable suspicion. This only damaged community-police relations, including LGBT New Yorkers, who often suffer targeted discrimination. As Housing and Buildings Committee Chair, I was proud to cosponsor and move through committee, Council Member Dromm's legislation to ensure equal access to single stall restrooms, regardless of gender identity, and a resolution with Council Member Menchaca to prohibit NYPD from using condoms as evidence of prostitution. Additionally, trans women of more color are being killed with impunity across the country, and no one is doing enough to address it, which is why I’ve consistently worked to raise their voices as much as possible. Finally, I intend to pass legislation as Public Advocate, which I recently introduced, known as the Fairer Chance Act (legislation, which builds on the original Fair Chance Act). When enacted, the law will ban employers from inquiring about non-criminal violations before sealing, principally Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution. This existing violation, which turns into a misdemeanor after a first arrest, has long left many New Yorkers, including LGBT New Yorkers (specifically transgender women), and sex workers, vulnerable to specific, targeted, unfair law enforcement actions, and I intend to put a stop to it. No longer should LGBT New Yorkers face a loss of employment on the basis of engaging in constitutionally protected activity. No longer should it be up to an officer to subjectively determine which legal behaviors becomes illegal and the collateral consequences that result. I look forward to getting this bill done as Public Advocate. Most recently, I was proud to sponsor the Boss Bill, which was signed into law last month that modifies the city’s Human Rights Law to protect against employment discrimination based on sexual reproductive health decisions, including HIV testing and counseling.
Aside from sponsoring the Fairer Chance Act, as Public Advocate, I will create an Office of LGBT Affairs within the Public Advocate's office, to be headed by a director who doesn't just understand LGBT issues in theory, but who may be able to point to lived experience. I will also push to create a citywide office to better streamline the complaint and redress process for the scores of New Yorkers who are LGBT. I will also push for legislation that requires the Police Department to better report enforcement data. With improved data reporting, we all can see, in black and white, the scope and scale of any targeted enforcement (such as for low-level offenses) that may be used to target members of the LGBT community, such as Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution. There is intersectionality with many hate issues in this city, and I plan to address all acts of homophobia and transphobia through a multipronged approach as our city’s next Public Advocate.
Finally, we have to do a better job as a city in addressing very particular populations that face discrete challenges. For example, not only are we in a housing crisis, but we know that those organizations that attempt to fill the void by providing housing options for LGBT seniors, and youth, need additional capacity. Our city has an approximate 85 billion dollar budget, and we can use more of that money to build or preserve additional unit that are specifically for these populations. Preservation includes funding those existing housing organizations that focus on those New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS.
|My vision for the Public Advocate office is Jobs and Justice. Achieving justice means that investment, resources and protections for the LGBTQIA community will be a priority to ensure that the community is recognized and empowered.
I am a consistent progressive for the LGBTQIA community. As a lay minister and a campaign aide under President Obama in 2012, I proudly lead a national call with clergy to unite us around marriage equality. As an Assembly Member, I am proud to have co-sponsored and voted on legislation that bans discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation (GENDA) as well as harmful conversion therapies. I use my faith to call for unity, not hate; for love, not lies. As an elected leader, I bring that with me into public service. I will always stand with the LGBTQIA community. I have been a consistent progressive on marriage equality, gender-neutral birth certificates, and believe that the city can and should do more to support the full inclusion, rights and gender identities of all New Yorkers. From health care to jobs to housing, the LGBTQIA community has needs that we must meet. We have anywhere between 3,800–20,000 homeless young people in this city, but 15–40% of them are LGBT (NYC Commission, 2010). Housing and employment discrimination, already an outsized problem for the community, is far higher among the LGBT community when members are Black, Latinx and gender non-conforming. (NYC Comptroller Survey 2017). Bullying in schools, violence against trans women, and police abuse mean that the daily lives of our LGBTQIA/GNC neighbors can be a constant source of pain; and that is unacceptable.
As Public Advocate, I will demand accountability from city agencies, particularly ACS, HRA, DHS, CCHR and DOE for services and support that meet the disproportionate and unique needs of the LGBTQIA community and insist on greater policing oversight and accountability from NYPD and CCRB, including the tracking of and intervention in violence against LGBTQIA residents. I will fight for more training of police officers to end harassment and police misconduct against the LGBTQIA community. Last, but of central importance, is health care. I applaud the Mayor’s announcement of Health Care for All, and, I am a staunch support of single-payer health care. The LGBTQIA community, to be properly served, must be taken into account and ensured fair and appropriate health care in the implementation of this and other programs. I will develop and create oversight mechanisms as we receive more details about the plan
||With the real attacks on marginalized LGBTQ+ communities, it is important that the next Public Advocate is not new to prioritizing and advocating on behalf of our neighbors. I’m proud to have hired LGBTQ+ staff as Deputy Executive Director of NYC’s Young Men’s Initiative; co-labored with queer Movement for Black Lives liberators in Ferguson, Baltimore, NYC and throughout the country; and ensured the safe re-entry of transwomen held in the men’s facility at Rikers as part of the Mass Bail Out team, with significant support from partners like Audre Lorde Project. As a member of the #SheWoke Committee--the visionaries and facilitators of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls--not only do our congressional leaders now prioritize the safety and well-being of women like Sandra Bland and Cyntoia Brown, but also Viccky Gutierrez and Sasha Wall--making this Caucus the first ever to intentionally prioritize and center LGBTQ+ lives of color. Why does this matter? Because the position of Public Advocate must not only ring the alarm on injustice, but must have a deep demonstration of how to address and undo inequities faced by those who experience intersectional oppression.
It was great to see the movement with GENDA in the State Senate, as well as the movement of reproductive health. As Public Advocate, I would advocate to ensure that such advancements result in adequate health care for LGBTQ+ persons, including for those transitioning. I would also call for increased mental health support within our schools, career support to ensure our neighbors can thrive, and an immediate answer to homelessness and housing discrimination.
I would advocate for the decriminalization of sex work based on the data that reveals how this “offense” disproportionately impacts trans women of color. What is needed is more investments for housing and safe havens, wellness support, and economic security--which I would advance through legislation.
Because of the increased vulnerability immigrant LGBTQ+ communities face, part of my First 90-days platform includes proposing legislation to ban ICE from our courthouses. I’d also call for there to be a parallel LGBTQ+ census, to truly assess the needs of our community members and determine whether they are receiving proper support from our agencies.
As a former congressional staffer who co-drafted the End Racial Profiling Act, I would continue to advocate for its passage, as it also includes protections for LGBTQ+ persons. I would also support repealing the HIV Discrimination Act and Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act, among others.
To address the intersection between schools and our criminal justice system, I would investigate not only the impact bullying has on all youth, but the disparities that exist for LGBTQ+ youth within our schools, with an acute eye on disciplinary records. I’d work with youth, existing programs like NYC Men Teach (which I designed and managed for the City to address the lack of men of color and non-gender conforming persons at the front of the classroom), and agencies like the Human Rights Commission to devise a strategy to educate and empower all youth and their families to increase tolerance, inclusion and a culture of belonging.
There are so many other areas I intend to impact, which is why my vision for the Public Advocate office is for it to be an Office of Equity, and to empower communities through hiring and partnership to create solutions that are culturally-relevant, transparent, and resourced to address the inadequate support for our communities. I welcome the opportunity to speak more with you about these proposed ideas and others.
||Discrimination, hate and bigotry are cruel and ugly, and unfortunately, they’re a part of daily life for many LGBTQ individuals. That’s why the Assembly has once again passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) with me voting for supporting GENDA. gender identity and expression is one of the state’s protected classes so that no one can be denied essentials like housing, health care, education and employment solely because of who they are and I vow to bring that those protections as your next public advocate. I believe there need to be funding for more education on HIV/AIDS and to expand resources. I also believe their should be funding for low income housing New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS.|
||Functionally an office with limited power and budget, the Public Advocate has traditionally lacked the ability to do anything truly substantive for New Yorkers. My goal is to turn the Public Advocate into the office of public advocacy - an office whose primary focus is to break down the barriers between New Yorkers and the politics, government and bureaucracy of their city.
By doing that, we can turn the Public Advocate from an office centered on an individual, to one centered on empowering communities. A platform for the residents of New York to become advocates themselves, and to show them how to use that advocacy to force politicians to deliver. The Public Advocate cannot do this alone, communities must be a part of it. And only by engaging with communities to organize effectively can we do this together.
I'm running on three programs that do three simple things our city government should have been doing all along to empower the people of New York:
1. Civics For All
Civic knowledge empowers people. I've seen it firsthand teaching civics to thousands of New Yorkers who go on to successfully make their communities heard. Civics For All brings that power to every corner of New York City with workshops, classes, online guides, and a "Political 311" hotline. These tools will allow New Yorkers to bridge the gap between those who have specific issues and those organizing to solve them.
By making civic institutions known, helping residents find the correct decision maker, and reminding them to vote when their elected officials are up for election, Civics for All will help communities apply their energy in the most effective ways. Be it in person, online or over the phone, everyone has problems which they need civics to solve. The government owes people answers.
2. Power for Communities
We need to build leverage for bottom up, community driven city planning. Right now, City Hall forces communities to react to proposals it then speeds through approval. This prevents disenfranchised New Yorkers from having the opportunity to be heard in a meaningful way. The Public Advocate should use its resources to bring together community institutions and stakeholders to develop a shared, proactive vision of how New York should develop - creating the space and structure to incorporate left out voices. Then it should use its power to support plans which have buy in from all communities in the city. Including holding hearings on agencies which disregard them and introducing legislation to enact their decisions.
If our civic institutions - like Community Boards, Education Councils and local advocates - were united in a proactive vision of New York’s future, elected officials would have to reckon with their plan. No elected wants to upset every community at once; not a mayor and certainly not any Council Member who wants to be Mayor.
3. Justice for New Yorkers
It’s time to expand the litigatory focus of the Public Advocate. I will investigate and provide legal support to sue bad actors threatening our civic systems. For example: a Board of Elections that purges voters and mishandles elections, employers who routinely steal wages from New York’s most vulnerable and hardest working populations, political parties which cut illegal backroom deals and a city government which fails to enforce concessions made by big developers to communities.
These programs are based on a decade of building models of democracy that work. They provide a framework for empowering communities in city decision making - especially those which are traditionally silenced or left out. They provide a conscious space to include voices like LGBTQ+, and especially the intersectional communities like LGBTQ+ youth, people of color or those stigmatized for HIV/AIDS, drug use or homelessness.
My entire life I have supported LGBTQ+ candidates and causes. I am the child of an interracial marriage; my father is Chinese American, my mother is a Polish immigrant whose parents were Jewish holocaust survivors. When my parents were married in 1977, interracial marriage had only been a right for 10 years. I identify deeply with the right to love, the right to marry and the prerogative for anyone to express who they are as a civil right.
In keeping with that, one of my very first local political efforts after working on the 2008 Obama campaign was pushing for Marriage Equality in 2009. That year, I served as Vice President of Manhattan Young Democrats when we ran a nationally recognized online campaign to pass Marriage Equality in the State Legislature; the bill ultimately failed by only one vote in the State Senate. After that, as a leader in the Young Democrats, I facilitated partnerships with MENY and HRC to continue the fight for Marriage Equality until its ultimate passage in 2011. When that was won, I continued to fight for GENDA until its passage this year.
For many years, I also lead community service events at Middle Collegiate Church’s homeless shelter for runaway LGBTQ youth. It was a tremendous loss when the shelter closed in the mid-2010s, and I will support increasing funding for both emergency shelter beds and transitional beds for homeless youth, a huge percentage of whom are from the LGBT community.
Our city government is failing to address the city’s housing crisis in any lasting way, and as Public Advocate I will empower communities to fight developers who now seem to hold all the keys to the city and who get all the tax breaks. This fight is especially important for funding senior housing for the LGBT community, safe shelters for LGBT youth, and increased funding for the HIV/AIDS Services Administration. I support fully funding NYC Department of Health’s plan to expand PEP & PreP Access and ensuring all individuals are able to access medically appropriate health care services, including reproductive health care, regardless of their gender identity.
I will also join the LGBT community in calling on the New York City Police Department to better investigate the murder, assault, or hate crimes against LGBT individuals, particularly trans people of color, and I support a policy change to ensure the New York City Police Department appropriately genders individuals when releasing information. I believe that our education system has to train teachers and students to be proactive advocates for LGBTQ youth. That is why I support the inclusion of “school climate” as a measure of Non-Academic School Success, as part of the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and I will push for both mandatory LGBT-inclusive, multicultural education as a pre-certification requirement for teachers, and curricula for New York City Schools that include important moments in LGBT civil rights history, and that challenge racism, sexism and homophobia.
More than anything, though, I will be a champion for an effective voice for all the different communities in our city. The programs I have propose are more than just platitudes, they are proposals for how we, as New Yorkers, can move our city forward. I hope not only to earn your vote and endorsement in this election, but that you will team up to build a city and democracy that works for all of us.
For more information, or to contact me, please feel free to visit benjaminyee.com.